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Anyone who has not fallen in love with this grandfather of natural history broadcasting is dead inside. I grew up on David Attenborough’s far stretching, groundbreaking utterly engrossing wild life programmes and, like everyone else who has enjoyed his work, have gained an incredible insight into the planet on which we live, from the deepest depths of the oceans to the coldest polar climbs, via impenetrable rain forests and barren deserts.
Attenborough narrated every episode of Wildlife on One, a BBC One wildlife series which ran for 253 episodes between 1977 and 2005 and which I spent many hours glued to. Likewise the Natural World, BBC Two’s flagship wildlife series of which he narrated over 50 episodes. These two great nature series are just a couple of gems from his exhaustive and exhilarating repertoire.
His degree in natural sciences from Cambridge University in 1945 stood him in good stead for his future career as the great communicator of our natural world. Not long after leaving the Navy Attenborough applied for a job as a radio producer for the BBC. Although unsuccessful in his application he came to the attention of the then head of factual broadcasting department at the BBC, Mary Adams. Accepting Adam’s offer of a three-month training course he took a full time position at the BBC in 1952. He became a producer for non-fiction broadcasts.
In 1957 the BBC Natural History Unit was formally established in Bristol. Attenborough was asked to join it, but declined and instead formed his own department, the Travel and Exploration Unit, which allowed him to continue to front Zoo Quest as well as produce other documentaries, notably the Travellers’ Tales and Adventure series.
In the early 1960s, Attenborough studied for a postgraduate degree in social anthropology at the London School of Economics, interweaving his study with further filming. However, he accepted an invitation to return to the BBC as controller of BBC Two, before he could finish the degree, in 1965. That same year he filmed elephants in Tanzania, and in 1969, he made a three-part series on the cultural history of the Indonesian island of Bali. For the 1971 film A Blank on the Map, he joined the first Western expedition to a remote highland valley in New Guinea to seek out a lost tribe.
BBC Two was launched in 1964, but had struggled to capture the public’s imagination. When Attenborough arrived as controller, he was on a mission to make BBC Two’s output diverse and different from that offered by other networks, beginning with establishing a portfolio of programmes that defined the channel’s identity for decades to come. Under his tenure, music, the arts, entertainment, archaeology, experimental comedy, travel, drama, sport, business, science and natural history all found a place in the weekly schedules. Often, an eclectic mix was offered within a single evening’s viewing. Programmes he commissioned included Man Alive, Call My Bluff, Life, The Old Grey Whistle Test, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and The Money Programme.
When BBC Two became the first British channel to broadcast in colour in 1967, Attenborough took advantage by introducing televised snooker, as well as bringing rugby league to British television on a regular basis via the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy.
One of his most significant decisions was to order a 13-part series on the history of Western art, to show off the quality of the new UHF colour television service that BBC Two offered. Broadcast to universal acclaim in 1969, Civilisation set the blueprint for landmark authored documentaries. Others followed, including Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man (also commissioned by Attenborough), and Alistair Cooke’s America. Attenborough thought that the story of evolution would be a natural subject for such a series. He shared his idea with Chris Parsons, a producer at the Natural History Unit, who came up with the title Life on Earth and returned to Bristol to start planning the series.
In 1969 Attenborough was promoted to director of programmes, making him responsible for the output of both BBC channels. His tasks, which included agreeing budgets, attending board meetings and firing staff were now far removed from the business of filming programmes. Managerial duties were becoming a burden and restricting Attenborough’s capacity to create rather than curate programming. Early the following year, he left his post to return to full-time programme-making, leaving him free to write and present the planned natural history epic he had envisioned with Parsons.
Beginning with Life on Earth in 1979, Attenborough set about creating a body of work which became a benchmark of quality in wildlife film-making and influenced a generation of documentary film-makers. The series also established many of the hallmarks of the BBC’s natural history output. By treating his subject seriously and researching the latest discoveries, Attenborough and his production team gained the trust of scientists, who responded by allowing him to feature their subjects in his programmes. In Rwanda, for example, Attenborough and his crew were granted privileged access to film Dian Fossey’s research group of mountain gorillas. Innovation was another factor in Life on Earth’s success: new film-making techniques were devised to get the shots Attenborough wanted, with a focus on events and animals that were hitherto unfilmed. Computerised airline schedules, which had only recently been introduced, enabled the series to be elaborately devised so that Attenborough visited several locations around the globe in each episode, sometimes even changing continents mid-sentence. Although appearing as the on-screen presenter, he consciously restricted his pieces to camera to give his subjects top billing.
The success of Life on Earth prompted the BBC to consider a follow-up, and five years later, The Living Planet was screened. This time, Attenborough built his series around the theme of ecology, the adaptations of living things to their environment. It was another critical and commercial success, generating huge international sales for the BBC.
In 1990 The Trials of Life completed the original Life trilogy, looking at animal behaviour through the different stages of life. Bold in its representation of nature, its sequences of killer whales hunting sea lions on a Patagonian beach and chimpanzees hunting and violently killing a colobus monkey was brave for its unflinching approach, provoking a strong response from the public as a consequence.
Life in the Freezer followed in 1993, the first television series to survey the natural history of Antarctica. Although past normal retirement age, he then embarked on a number of more specialised surveys of the natural world, beginning with plants. They proved a difficult subject for his producers, who had to deliver five hours of television featuring what are essentially immobile objects. The result, The Private Life of Plants (1995), showed plants as dynamic organisms by using time-lapse photography to speed up their growth.
Attenborough then turned his attention to the animal kingdom and in particular, birds. As he was neither an obsessive twitcher, nor a bird expert, he decided he was better qualified to make The Life of Birds (1998) on the theme of behaviour.
The order of the remaining “Life” series was dictated by developments in camera technology. For The Life of Mammals (2002), low-light and infrared cameras were deployed to reveal the behaviour of nocturnal mammals. Advances in macro photography made it possible to capture natural behaviour of very small creatures for the first time, and in 2005, Life in the Undergrowth introduced audiences to the world of invertebrates.
At this point, Attenborough realised that he had spent 20 years unconsciously assembling a collection of programmes on all the major groups of terrestrial animals and plants, only reptiles and amphibians were missing. When Life in Cold Blood was broadcast in 2008, he had the satisfaction of completing the set, brought together in a DVD encyclopaedia called Life on Land. In an interview that year, Attenborough was asked to sum up his achievement, and responded:
‘The evolutionary history is finished. The endeavour is complete. If you’d asked me 20 years ago whether we’d be attempting such a mammoth task, I’d have said “Don’t be ridiculous!” These programmes tell a particular story and I’m sure others will come along and tell it much better than I did, but I do hope that if people watch it in 50 years’ time, it will still have something to say about the world we live in.’
He has rightly been described as a peerless educator and one of the greatest broadcasters of our time. His approach to communicating science and the world around us will never be surpassed. David Attenborough, we salute you with this David Attenborough t-shirt.
This David Attenborough t-shirt design was brought to you by the talented Ms Heather Brennan. So too is our Carl Sagan (Billions) t-shirt design.
These t shirts are unique for being made exclusively for us wholly with fibres ring spun into yarns manufactured exclusively for WeAdmire. These yarns are then knitted into a single jersey fabric suitable for t shirts.
The CoolMax bit exploits the surface tension of water to wick moisture from your skin. It works through micro channels engineered into the profile of the fibre. These channels are physical attributes, they are there for the life of the fibre.
The Fresh FX bit embeds a silver salt in the molecular structure of the fibre that stops the propagation of bacteria which, left unchecked, ultimately cause a sour odour. Because the silver salt is embedded within the fibre it, like the wicking, is similarly permanent; it will not leech out with wear and washing.
These attributes deliver shirts that remain cool and dry almost regardless of what you might do in them and similarly they remain fresh. And the ongoing performance of the fabric is guaranteed. This is important, these shirts will become your favourite items of apparel, you will want to wear your shirts again and again.
These shirts are marvellous to travel with, they stay fresh if you don’t have the chance to wash them, they wash easily when you do have the chance, and they dry super quickly. There is also a very useful side effect to all this: our shirts keep anything you wear on top of them and what you might wear after wearing them fresher too.
The cut and fit and sizing of these shirts is exclusive to us and was specified by Anastasia Vouyouka, a published guru of fit in the fashion industry.
The feel of the very best natural fibre shirts you have experienced with the performance of the fibres that set the benchmarks for wicking and freshness. It is very unlikely you will have experienced this level of technical performance in a decorated t shirt before.